Lambeth councillors tonight (19 January) heard an impassioned plea to save five nursery schools in the borough, two of them in Brixton.
Teacher Luke Page and governor Umar Mahmood from the Lambeth Maintained Nursery School Federation explained to councillors how their nurseries differed from private nurseries.
The schools are
Effra Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Effra Parade, Brixton
Holmewood Nursery School in Brixton Hill
Triangle Nursery School in Clapham
Ethelred Nursery School and Children’s Centre in Kennington
Maytree Nursery School in Clapham.
Four of the five schools are rated as “outstanding”, the other as “good”.
Luke Page, head of Triangle Nursery School, said the five schools are “committed to ensuring the very best childcare and education for children” but escalating costs and changes to funding threaten their future.
He explained to councillors that they differed from private nurseries for several reasons – they were schools “in every sense of the word” and “our costs are school costs”.
“We need to have teachers on site,” he said, one school has four.
“We have to have a special education needs coordinator and that’s to support the very, very high-level and complex needs of the children that attend the schools.”
Other nurseries did not need to find the money to pay teachers, “and they don’t need to find that money from their budget to pay, to support those very vulnerable children,” said Page.
The federation takes them when they have nowhere else to go.
“The progress these children make in just a few months in our nursery schools is astounding and life changing,” Page said.
“We love what we do,” he said, “but unless we act now, we’re going to have to close.
Money was now provided from “early years”, not school, funds. While a primary school receives £3,000 for every child receiving free school meals, maintained nurseries receive £300.
He appealed to the council for help not only with funds but also with publicity for the nurseries and the work they do.
He pointed out that while schools can access Covid relief funding, nurseries cannot.
The five nursery schools in the Lambeth federation needed to find £250,000 pounds “for building work and maintenance that we just can’t afford to do”.
“We’re asking everybody across all political parties: ‘Make a commitment to make sure that the children who are the most vulnerable and in Lambeth take precedence over politics’.”
Page recalled what a mother told him as a child left the school in December: “You have given my son everything. With your love and support he’s returning to the happy, smiley boy he once was”.
“We knew that he needed some extra help, but even above and beyond to make sure that we could all work together and make him smile every day.
“It’s amazing what you do now, and it’s not scary for us to go to primary school, as long as he can get the love and the care that you’ve provided for him.”
Councillor Ed Davie, council cabinet member for children and young people, responded to the deputation.
He said he had been having meetings with nursery school governors, teachers and parents. He had told them and repeated that Lambeth council is totally committed to its maintained nursery schools.
It still had the third highest number of SureStart centres in London – a scheme launched by a Labour government – and a high number of maintained nurseries.
But, as Luke Page had said, the funding formula for maintained nurseries had been changed in 2017/18 by the Conservative government.
“With the high-quality teaching staff that maintained nursery schools have, that’s a much higher cost than a private provider.
“And it provides so much more and it’s excellent value for money.”
But it did mean that there is a revenue shortfall between the cost of paying “these excellent staff” and the money the council received from central government.
Nonetheless, Lambeth council had assigned nearly an extra £1m a year for the nursey schools.
“But,” said Davie, “We are constrained legally and in financial terms about how we are able to subsidise further.”
He said the council was very happy to look at that and come up with creative solutions and had been working really hard with the schools.
Despite this work, there is still a projected deficit of £1.5m by the financial year 2023/24.
The Effra and Homewood nurseries in Brixton face the biggest issues.
“We were committed to working with you,” Davie told the delegation.
“We can look at some of the capital issues. We can look creatively at other funding issues. I don’t want to make promises I can’t deliver on now, except that we will work with you.
“We will do our very best to work with you and lobby government.
“Just on Tuesday, I met the shadow schools minister Steven Morgan. I raised this very issue and we will continue to lobby, with you, central government to get the funds that we desperately need to provide this excellent, excellent service.”
Tulse Hill councillor Ben Kind presented a petition signed by hundreds of parents and carers asking for a commitment from the council to recognise the valuable service maintained nursery schools provide.
It said the five in Lambeth “provide an outstanding education; skilled, inclusive provision and holistic support to approximately 650 children aged between two and four years and their families.
“This includes many children who are vulnerable or with complex needs that would struggle to find an equivalent support in other settings.”
The petition points out that the nursery schools work closely children centres to provide support for many more families with younger children.
“The varied and skilled services provided by the highly trained and experienced team, including fully qualified teachers and special education needs and disability (SEND) specialists have supported over 200 children with confirmed /suspected SEND in 2020-2021,” it said.
“Lambeth Nursery Schools provide a truly inclusive provision and help families secure funding and support, to enable children to enter into the schools system with the best possible start.”
An “e-petition” on the council website will run until 25 February.
In October 2019, Lambeth council wrote to the then education secretary Gavin Williamson appealing for funds for its maintained nursery schools.
Its letter said the five schools are all in, or close to, areas of high deprivation, taking in many children who face multiple disadvantages in life.
Even then, the council was topping-up their budgets each year to enable them to stay open.
“Their funding has been effectively frozen for the past eight years, while costs, particularly staff salaries, have gone up,” the letter said.
It had formed the schools into a federation with a single head, with the loss of two valued head teachers.
“Further savings are becoming increasingly difficult to identify, with the potential of closing some schools altogether becoming a real possibility,” the letter said.
“We are becoming seriously concerned about their future.”